This was a non-election year in Indiana. That didn’t mean it was a slow time for political fussing, fighting and maneuvering.
Democrat Glenda Ritz spent her first year as Indiana superintendent of public instruction battling Republicans who appeared bent on undermining her authority.
Gov. Mike Pence created an education agency apart from Ritz’s, a move supported by Pence-appointed members of the Indiana State Board of Election, which Ritz chairs. Ritz accused the board of violating the state’s Open Door Law by sending to legislative leaders a letter that was not discussed in a public meeting.
Ritz walked out of an election board meeting in November after a member tried to strip her office of certain student assessment powers. She and Pence later agreed to have the National Association of State Boards of Education help mediate the dispute.
Fort Wayne native Tim Berry was selected as chairman of the Indiana Republican Party to replace Eric Holcomb, who resigned to join the staff of Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind. Berry was in his second term as state auditor when he took the GOP job. His departure turned the Statehouse post into a revolving door.
Dwayne Sawyer became the Republicans’ first black statewide officeholder when Pence appointed him auditor. But Sawyer quit in December, and Pence chose state Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, as his replacement. Until Crouch assumes her duties in early January, the job belongs to Erin Sheridan, auditor’s office chief of staff.
The position will be up for election next fall, with the Republicans and Democrats nominating their candidates for auditor, treasurer and secretary of state in June. The GOP convention will be at Fort Wayne’s Grand Wayne Center, the first time the event has left Indianapolis. Democrats had their 2012 convention at Grand Wayne Center.
A shakeup in Allen County’s delegation at the Indiana General Assembly began this year. Rep. Phyllis Pond, R-New Haven, already had submitted her resignation after 35 years in the House when she died in September at 82.
Ten days before Pond died, state Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, announced he will not seek re-election next year in Senate District 15. Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries, County Council member Darren Vogt and former Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown revealed their intentions to run for the seat Wyss has occupied since 1985.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry made waves with his proposal to move the statue of Gen. Anthony Wayne from Freimann Square to the nearby Courthouse Green to give it more visibility. The Courthouse Preservation Trust objected, then put up $100,000 in private money to spruce up the statue’s setting. Henry and the city parks board accepted the offer, and the statue stayed put.
At the federal level, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, led a contentious movement to strip food stamps from the farm bill, which the House did and the Democratic Senate is resisting. When the House-Senate budget stalemate shut down parts of the government in October, Stutzman drew scorn from Democrats – including President Barack Obama – and media commentators when he told a Washington reporter that Republicans have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.
Two statewide officials who left office in 2012 stirred up controversy this year, thanks to their penchant for communicating by email when they were in office.
Emails surfaced showing that former Gov. Mitch Daniels, now the president of Purdue University, sought in 2010 to ban from Indiana classrooms the writings of late historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn.
Former state education Superintendent Tony Bennett, unseated by Ritz in 2012, resigned as Florida’s public schools chief after published emails showed he had tinkered with Indiana’s school-grading formula to raise the grade of a campaign donor’s charter school from a C to an A.
It was a far better year for Richard Lugar, who left the U.S. Senate after 36 years following his 2012 election loss.
A longtime leader on foreign policy and arms control, Lugar was knighted by a representative of Queen Elizabeth II of England, received Germany’s Grand Cross of the Order of Merit and became just the second Hoosier to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
At the county level, several debates have ensued on the subject of merging services and it appears more are in store for 2014.
The Allen County commissioners asked the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority this summer to consider merging with city-county dispatch for efficiency and a possible cost-savings, but TRAA’s Executive Director Gary Booher said his dispatching service should stay separate from the city-county operation.
New Haven has requested nearly $106,000 from Allen County to help upgrade its own 911 call center, but that city has made it clear it does not want to merge with the joint Fort Wayne-Allen County 911 call center
Tim Lee, director of the city-county center, said his operation is more efficient and he doesn’t understand New Haven’s reasoning since the city is part of Allen County.
Lee has been in discussions with other nearby counties about establishing Fort Wayne as a regional, centralized hub for emergency dispatching, he said, but declined to say which counties he has met with.
Vivian Sade of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.